THE mart manager’s delight was clear. “I can actually see online who is bidding, and it was a pleasure to watch three factory agents ‘pole’ each other for the cows — wouldn’t happen if the ring was there,” he said.
It’s ironic that while the farming community has for years been demanding transparency in relation to factory pricing, this new technology at marts has removed it — and those selling appear to be benefitting.
The numbers of cull cows and heavy cattle sold through the mart system had collapsed during lockdown until recently as many sellers put their surplus stock to grass rather than take what they perceived to be poor prices under the tendering system.
However, over the last three weeks, two things have happened to restore confidence to those with fit cattle to sell: factory prices have improved, and online selling has brought real competition back into play.
Apart from the improvement for heavy cattle, last week saw prices for everything near the top of the quality tree level off, while those further down eased back by around €20/hd.
Maura Quigley of Roscommon described her trade as “a little sticky in places”, while Ivan Moffitt in Manorhamilton considered cattle “no dearer” than the previous week.
David Quinn of Carnew estimated that two weeks ago prices for the better store were up to 20c/kg stronger.
In Gortatlea, Maurice Brosnan noted that while quality-assured 600kg Angus bullocks were still selling from €2.10-2.30/kg, similar-weighted non-quality-assured stock are struggling to €1.80-1.90/kg. Maurice said prices for Hereford types appear to have also gone off the boil.
What has spurred this change?
Firstly the success of the fledgling online mart sales in moving far bigger numbers through the system has resulted in sellers increasing their offerings dramatically, giving buyers more choice.
Secondly, sellers who had been showing their top-of-the-line wares are into their second string.
Thirdly, a lot of the more fancy prices paid over the last month were driven by the ‘seven-month men’.
These buyers’ interest is governed by their need to secure a continuation of their Single Farm Payment.
In attempting to secure their investment by buying as close to the top of the quality tree as possible, they sometimes pushed prices beyond what many would deem to be feasible if you were actually interested in making a profit.
Now with their quotas bought and their applications completed, most are focusing on other matters.
There are other factors, of course, such as availability of grass and fluctuating factory prices, but in general last week’s fall-off in mart returns was down to bigger numbers, falling quality and a reduction in the number of buyers whose livelihoods are not totally dependent on farming.
The big question now is, with marts due to reopen in a limited way on June 8, how much extra access will be granted?
It is expected that each mart will resubmit a new plan of operations and procedures insuring plenty of social distancing and security for staff and buyers while still restricting access to sellers.
Another question that may be answered is how auctioneers will manage to keep track of live bids while at the same time keeping abreast of online activity.
I tried juggling eggs one time, it didn’t end well.
Maura Quigley noted that while trade was “a little sticky in places” the bullocks on offer averaged €2.27/kg to a top of €3.13/kg.
Sample prices included a 695kg Charolais at €2.35/kg, while two 540kg Charolais averaged €2.54/kg. That top call of €3.13/kg went to a 370kg Charolais.
Ivan Moffitt considered cattle “no dearer” last week with the better-conformation 280-350kg weanling here continuing to make €2.50-3.00/kg, while the lesser animal was €2.00-2.30/kg.
Store cows were no dearer at €1.60/kg, while heavier good continental types were also steady at around the €2/kg mark.
A big turnout of calves saw stronger Angus selling from €200-230/hd, with younger Friesian bulls making €60-100/hd.
The best of the weanling bulls saw €3/kg and more, with your average 280-400kg bull making €2.50-2.80/kg.
The importance of having your stock quality assured was illustrated by the fact that 600kg Angus bullocks with quality assurance sold from €2.10-2.30/kg, while “similar” animals without it stopped at €1.80/kg.
In the 400-499kg section bullocks here averaged €2.24/kg, while the better ones in this section came in at €2.52/kg. In the 500-599kg section, steer averages struggled on to €2.04/kg although your better one cracked on well averaging €2.36/kg. In the 600kg+ section bullocks averaged €2.07-2.40/kg.
Among the heifers, those from 350-399kg averaged from €2.00/kg for the lesser one, to €2.72/kg for top-end quality. In the 400-499kg division, the average worked out at €2.21/kg, with the tops seeing €2.52/kg+.
This was Ennis’ first online weanling sale and the returns indicate a strengthening in prices, especially for better-conformation stock.
The star of the show was the 530kg Charolais bull that topped out at €3.21/kg. The next best was a 310kg Limousin at €3.19/kg, while two 237kg Charolais averaged €3.11/kg.
Best in class on the heifer side were four 297kg Limousins that averaged €3.09/kg, with a 370kg Limousin second through the gate at €2.73/kg.
A big sale that saw both quality and price ease a little.
“Store bullocks made up to €2.40-2.50/kg and heifers €2.30-2.40/kg — two weeks ago the tops were maybe 20c/kg better,” David Quinn told me. Feedlot buyers were reported as being keen to pick up Hereford and Angus types at prices from €1.90-2.20/kg.
Most noticeable was the return of the cull cow: having fallen off the mart radar since the lockdown started, the introduction of online bidding has reinvigorated their trade, with good continentals here selling from €2.00-2.20/kg.
How could barely seven-to eight-week-old Friesian calves make €310/hd, I asked mart manager Kevin Murphy.
“These were well bred, well reared and well cared for,” he replied.
With Belgian Blue heifers and bull calves selling from €332-340/hd those Friesians must have been “Louis Copelands” — quality all the way.
At the other end of the Friesian calf market are the shipper types which here averaged €60-95/hd.
On the bullock side, what Kevin described as R/U-grade 450kg continentals sold to €2.55/kg, while good 450kg heifers averaged €2.36/kg.